Hripsime Cathedral

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618 AD - Armavir Marz

Surb Hripsime Cathedral. © 2007, Timofey Kispoev
Map echmiadzin.gif
Hripsime church, one of the finest works of Armenian architecture of the classical period, a variant of the concentrical domed composition, stands on a slight elevation, at the eastern edge of Echmiadzin City. This kind of composition is characteristic only of the Christian countries of the Transcaucasus. Its expressive silhouette, seen from afar, stands up sharply against the background of an emerald-green valley dominated by the snow-capped Mt. Ararat.

St. Hripsime church, completed in 618, is a vivid example of a structure distinguished by the unity of layout and decoration in which the central-dome system is brought to perfection. The interior layout is subordinated to the vertical axis of the undercupola space, which makes it crystal-clear and solemnly monumental.

The plan is basically a square with the semi-circles of apses at the sides. The corners of the central crossing are premises, three-quarter in the plan, which serve as passages to the square annexes complementing the plan of the building to a rectangle stretched out from west to east. This is achieved through increasing the depth of the appropriate apses. The cupola, which covers a substantial proportion of the floor area, subordinates all the interior space of the church.

The building of the three-quarter (in the plan) passages to the annexes was made necessary by the need to distribute the weight of the cupola over more abutments which, for greater strength, are made organic parts of the massive walls. The leading constructive role of the wall, characteristic of Armenian architecture, shows most clearly here. The transition from the square base of the plan to the circumference of the cupola drum is effected through a system of complicated large stepped and small trompes which create a certain rhythm of the transition from the interior proper to the cupola crowning it. The millings intensifying the cupolas sphere make the upper part of the interior very imposing. The church interior is distinguished by its laconicism. The compositional combination of its individual elements emphasizes the integrity and concentricity of the domed edifice.

The tomb of S. Hripsime in the catacombs of her church
The outward appearance of the church is also clean-cut. As distinct from its predecessor - the cathedral in Avan (589—609), Hripsime church clearly reflects the inner structure in its outward monumental and, at the same time, simple image. The twin deep trapeziform niches, as high as the facades, emphasize the inner layout of the building on the outside and impart special expressiveness to it. At the same time they make the stone masonry between the apses and the annexes look lighter. By dividing the walls, the niches, crowned by thin cornices, add plasticity to the outward appearance of the building. The outside niches, which appeared in Hripsimeh Church for the first time, presently became a characteristic feature of Armenian architecture in the feudal epoch.

The sixteen-facet cupola is commensurable with the main part of the building. Its size and proportions emphasize the dominating importance of the under-cupola space in the structure’s interior. The round towers at the base of the cupola do not only strengthen its weak places structurally, but visually dovetail its multihedra! shape with the rectangular building it crowns. By emphasizing the rhythm of vertical divisions, created by the facade niches, and lightening the building’s top, the towers reveal its dimensions. The harmonious combination of individual components imparts monumentality and grandeur to Hripsimeh church which is relatively small.

The decoration of the building is extremely modest, and actually limited to the unpretentiously-shaped cornices, rosettes of concentric circles on the inner surface of the cupola. multi-petal ornaments on the smaller trompes and varied but chiefly geometrical motifs on the window edges.

St. Hripsimeh church is among outstanding works of Armenian architecture. Its type was repeatedly reproduced in other structures of the Transcaucasus. The simplicity and clarity of the concept. the laconic shapes and the interior layout had a decisive influence on the subsequent development of Armenian architecture.

Later, the church underwent certain changes; in particular, the western and southern entrance porticos were pulled down, and the side windows of the altar apse were walled up. In 1790. a two-tier bell-tower with an eight-column belfry was added to it.

As far as the church’s furnishing is concerned, of interest is the inlaid mother-of-pearl altar piece of 1741 which indicates a high level of Armenian applied art of the 18th century. The composition of the ornament, made up of framed interwoven branches with stylized leaves and various fruit and blooms, arranged around an encircled Greek cross, is most original.

Sources: "Architectural Ensembles of Armenia"O. Khalpakhchian, published in Moscow by Iskusstvo Publishers in 1980.


The graves of two 18th century Catholicoi are located in the church's courtyard, those of Asdvadzadur and Garabed II.

Surb Hripsime Cathedral


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